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MyChart: Technology allows access to your records online

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GINA R. HEINE
July 7, 2008
— Consumers expect service—from ordering pizza to cars—on the Internet.

They also want to talk to their doctors online, and now the local health care scene is catching up.


"The health care industry is just a little more behind because of the privacy to consider," said DJ Curran, project manager of MyChart for Dean Health System and SSM Healthcare.


MyChart is an Epic Systems product that allows patients to schedule and view appointments, pay bills, request prescription refills, send secure messages to physicians and view their medical records.


Local Dean patients have been using the program since 2006, and Mercy Health System plans to add the feature this fall.


"I think it's standard now that people have access to medical records and (are) able to get questions resolved efficiently in a way they want them resolved," said Dr. David Murdy, who practices internal medicine at Riverview Clinic in Janesville.


He compares the digital transition to the advent of telephone health service.


Some patients would rather stick to phone conversations, but e-mailing through the MyChart system probably is saving office visits, Murdy said. He responds to two to 10 messages from patients daily.


"It's not meant to replace the use of the phone or face-to-face (visits), but it's a new avenue for people to get access to doctors they need ... and it's free."


Building success

Patients set up their own accounts and can access only their own records. A family feature allows parents to view their children's records or adult children to view their parents' records.


Patient Ed Paape of Janesville has been using MyChart for more than a year to communicate with his physician, Dr. Murdy. Being able to message his doctor is helpful in treating his diabetes, as well as a recent bout with anemia, he said.


"There was a lot of communication back and forth on MyChart on that one," he said of the anemia. "He wrote back the same day."


The transition to electronic records has been gradual, managers at Mercy and Dean say.


Dean started using Epic's electronic medical record system in 2002 before launching MyChart in 2006 with a limited number of providers, Curran said.


"We needed to build up enough data to make the patient experience worthwhile," he said.


Now that Dean has a couple successful years of use, it is rolling out MyChart across specialty providers and marketing it more to patients.


"We know the system's solid enough now. We know that it works," Curran said.


When the new Dean/St. Mary's hospital opens in 2010 in Janesville, patients there also will be on the MyChart system, he said.


Mercy will start using MyChart in the fall with a pilot program involving pediatric patients at Mercy East, then expand to other clinics, said Laurie Howes, Mercy electronic medical records manager.


Mercy started building its electronic records system with Epic two years ago, she said. Providers at different Mercy locations now can access the same patient's records, she said.


Last September, Mercy started e-prescriptions, allowing providers to electronically send prescriptions to a pharmacist, replacing written notes patients take to the pharmacy, she said.


Limiting security risks

Patients setting up their MyChart account must go through a multiple step verification process including receiving an activation code from a doctor or through the mail to ensure the security and privacy of their records, Curran said.


The MyChart Web site does not store any information because the data is retrieved from the secure Epic system, he said.


"That's done so there's no information compromised," he said. "Someone could hack the Web site, but it wouldn't do them any good."


Getting positive feedback

Patient feedback has been "extremely positive," Curran said.


Dean started a pilot group of about 1,000 patients and now has about 30,000 using MyChart, he said.


"The main things we hear from patients and providers is the convenience," he said. "Patients really love the ability that they're not tied to office hours."


The messaging system also allows for more privacy. Instead of sitting in your cubicle at work talking to your doctor on the phone about your nasty foot fungus, patients can send a private e-mail.


It also is easier for patients to keep track of their health by accessing vaccination records and graphing lab results and vital signs over time, Curran said.


If Paape wants to recall his doctor's instructions from a previous appointment, he can bring up the details in MyChart.


"If I want to know what we talked about, it's right there," he said. "That's neat."



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